I grew up overseas and I moved away for university at 18, away from my close knit family. It was then that I had a nervous breakdown – I started worrying about everything, analysing everything. Everything would break me down – I’d just cry just when I had to do the dishes. I didn’t understand the thoughts I was having. That was the beginning of my journey with depression and anxiety.
I think a risk factor for me was being a nervous person – which I may have gotten from my parents, so there’s a genetic aspect– that type A kind of person which is so common in medicine. But otherwise, I was completely normal. Two loving parents, no traumatic experiences. There was nothing you could point to as a cause for why it all happened and that’s what made it hard to figure out what was going wrong.
So I tried everything in the book. Self help books, self development, exercise, natural remedies. I got tested for everything too – I thought it was fatigue for a long time since I had a lot of those symptoms. But all this didn’t achieve what I needed to, it didn’t give me answers and I realised that I just couldn’t go on like that.
My parents’ support was absolutely vital. My mom was the one that actually took charge for me back during that time because you can’t make those decisions for yourself. I was in denial – I thought it’s got to be this or that – never thinking of depression. She was the one who told me “This is where we’re going, this is what we’re doing,” and that’s when I went to the GP. The doctor kept persisting and said “Look, I think you’re depressed” and I had to accept that. That experience was actually what inspired me to do medicine in fact.
I refused the label for a long time before that. I didn’t want it to identify me. But when I accepted that I had depression – though it wasn’t who I was – I was able to heal. I could focus on being the best version of myself, keeping in mind how my body was made, my biology. It was never an excuse for me not to do the work I could do better myself.
I’ve tried coming off medication when things were going fine. But that really knocked me around – I got severely emotionally imbalanced. Medication evens me out and gives me that baseline I can keep working from. I had all this awareness of what was happening but I couldn’t control it still. At this stage I was able to detach myself, think about how my thoughts were affecting my mood which affected my behaviour so I think I have progressed. But sometimes you do have to accept that it is biological more than anything.
In these years I’ve also learnt to be kind to myself, to look after myself. I used to have very high expectations of myself – everything that I achieved I never acknowledged and I was always thinking of ways I could do better. I got into yoga as well – I just got certified as an instructor last year – which has helped me a lot. Eastern traditions, meditations, connecting with my body and accepting what I can’t change – I attribute a lot of my progress to.
What are the techniques you use to keep on top of your mental health?
Self awareness and mindfulness would be my top advice. Being aware of yourself; your body, your thoughts – knowing who you are and how you can live your life to bring out the best in yourself.
It’s also so important to have people who know about your situation around. They are my failsafe. They can see the signs in me when I can’t see them myself and let me know when I need help. People like my parents pulled me out of that acute phase when I just couldn’t get out of the lows on my own.